Here is a quick scouting report from Alain Poupart, who has covered Merling throughout his NFL career with DolphinDigest.com.
Then, we have his college scouting report, courtesy of NFL Draft Report's Dave-Te' Thomas.
Poupart on Merling after four seasons in the NFL
Phillip Merling came to the Dolphins in 2008 as the first pick of the second round of the draft, but he was essentially a first-round pick since that draft included only 31 first-round picks as a result of New England forfeiting its No. 1 because of "Spygate." But in his four years in Miami, Merling played nothing like a former first-round pick or even a second-round pick.
He came to Miami with some experience in the 3-4 defense and certainly looked the part of a quality defensive end in that scheme, but between injuries and a questionable work ethic, he just never panned out.
In his four seasons with the Dolphins, the only highlight he had, really, was an interception return for a touchdown in the 2008 finale that helped the Dolphins beat the Jets and clinch the AFC East title for their only playoff appearance of the last 10 years. Besides that, it was pretty much zilch.
The Dolphins really were patient with Merling, hoping his natural ability would allow him to flourish, but he never made any kind of move. In fact, it was partly because of Merling's lack of development that the Dolphins used their first-round pick in 2010 on defensive lineman Jared Odrick from Penn State.
It really was a big surprise that the Dolphins even bothered extending a third-round qualifying offer to Merling when he became a restricted free agent this offseason. The Dolphins ended up releasing him anyway, with published reports suggesting the last straw was Merling's decision to stay away from the voluntary minicamp.
Given Merling's physical ability — and there's no question there's something there — it's not impossible he could revive his career in Green Bay. But he's going to have to be willing to pay the price it takes to succeed at the NFL level, something he just didn't show often enough in Miami.
Thomas on Merling coming out of Clemson
Positives: Well-built with thick legs and long arms, good bubble with a tight waist and hips, along with minimal body fat…High energy player who is best when on the move, showing better ability to make plays along the edge rather than working inside…Flashes good explosion off the ball and has decent anchor and leverage ability to hold ground vs. isolated blockers at the point of attack…Quick off the edge and shows good hustle to the ball, utilizing his up field burst to give him an advantage over the large, slower blockers...Extends his arms well to keep blockers off him and has the swim move lateral agility to excel coming from the backside…Shows good breakdown and body control in his tackling form, using his long arms to capture ball carriers in space…Reads hats well and reacts to the play effectively, showing the ball awareness instincts on the move to neutralize and redirect the outside running lanes...Shows good balance in his moves down the line, demonstrating the knee bend to keep his feet on the move…Easily defeats blocks with his speed, showing the ability to dip and turn the corner in a flash...
Merling vs. Favre in 2008
Chris Faytok/The Star-Ledger
Comes off the line at the proper pad level and can burst around the corner with speed, looping through the gaps with good urgency…Has improved his hand usage during his junior year, as he played off blocks much better to work his way down the line…Gives chase with good body control and while he has the leverage to hold up, with his speed, he is much more effective on the move, where he can combine his lateral quickness and motor to keep containment on the outside…Not an explosive tackle, but will hit, wrap and secure…Has the functional leg drive to bull rush at times from the X's, but his best trait is his ability to get up field in a hurry.
Negatives: Needs to do a better job with his hands, as he sometimes struggles to disengage once blockers lock on (also must do a better job of keeping blockers off his feet)…Best when playing on the move, as he has to set his base better, as he will turn his shoulders and get sealed off at the point of attack (also seems to disappear in closed quarters, evident by his one tackle inside the red zone in 2007)…Seems to recognize the ball quicker when he's on the move rather than working through a crowd inside…His lower body frame lacks the power to take on the more bulkier blockers with consistency, as he shows a decent anchor vs. tight ends and backs, but he can still be driven off the ball when the offensive linemen run directly at him…Despite his quickness and urgency coming off the edge, he still needs to develop rush moves (club and rip are lacking, but his swim move is very effective), as he relies too much on quickness to separate…Gets caught up too much by double team activity inside and must protect himself better, as he doesn't have the raw power needed to split double teams…Plays with a good motor, but will get frustrated and shut down when the bigger blockers consistently neutralize him (can get engulfed).
Compares to: Justin Tuck, New York Giants: Both defensive ends will make a nice living with their play coming off the edge. While both have impressive size, Merling is best playing on the move, as he has that sudden initial step to slip past blocks. He is not a good stack and control type and must do a better job of protecting himself from low blocks, but he is quick to provide outside run containment and shows a quick swim-and-spin move that generally gets him into the backfield to pressure the pocket. He's not much of a rocket scientist, so he won't read and react in an instant, but has that closing speed to seal the deal, even in long pursuit, once he locates the ball. He has to improve his lower body strength, but there is enough athletic ability there to get by for now, as his body continues to mature.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.